Fred Ho: Turning Pain Into Power
A conversation with
Frank J. Oteri
New York, NY
October 8, 2008—4:00 p.m.
Transcribed by Julia Lu
Videotaped by Randy Nordschow
Video presentation by
Few creative artists seem to be as completely rooted in the present than baritone saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Fred Ho. And Ho’s artistic vision has remained remarkably consistent over the past quarter century.
Ho’s music-making grew out of his personal struggles against the marginalization he experienced growing up as a Chinese American in suburban Massachusetts as well as the domestic violence he suffered through in his own household. He found a powerful role model when he encountered the Black Arts Movement and the Black Liberation Movement as a student in the late ’60s which ultimately codified his own aesthetic sensibilities and led him to the creation of a unique amalgamation of traditions spanning musical theatre, jazz (a word he eschews), and Chinese folk music.
An assertive but affirmational political agenda is the cornerstone of all of Ho’s music, which encompasses solos, compositions for his own ensembles, and his first orchestral work—a concerto for baritone saxophone and orchestra which he recently premiered with the American Composers Orchestra. A significant portion of his output has been a series of multi-disciplinary spectacles involving singers, instrumentalists, and martial artists. Ho describes these works as “popular avant-garde works” that can appeal to fans of “Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Xena, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and the Ninja Turtles.”
Talking with Fred Ho about his own music is a sprawl through a wide range of topics, spanning history, sociology, socialism, and feminism. Like his music, it is a multi-faceted yet always impassioned journey.